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Taking a 401(k) Loan? Here's What to Know

18 min.

If you are a working American, you may have the option of contributing to a 401(k) retirement plan through your employer. While it is important to build a substantial nest egg for your future, there may be times when you face financial difficulties and need to access those funds before retirement. One possibility is taking a 401k loan. This can be a viable solution, but there are important considerations to keep in mind before taking this step.

Taking a 401(k) Loan? Here's What to Know

We will explore 401(k) loans and provide guidance on the key factors to consider before tapping into your retirement savings.

What is a 401(k) Loan?

A 401(k) loan allows individuals in the United States to borrow money from their retirement savings account, also known as a 401(k), for a short-term period. This type of loan is typically used when individuals need cash immediately and do not have sufficient funds in their savings account. This loan is different from a withdrawal, which is a permanent removal of funds from the retirement account.

The amount that an individual can borrow from their 401(k) account is limited to no more than $50,000 or 50% of the account balance, whichever is less. Additionally, the loan must be repaid in regular installments within the five-year period. Failure to repay the loan will result in tax penalties and fees, as well as impact an individual's retirement savings.

A 401(k) loan has interest rates generally much lower than other types of loans. The cost advantage of a 401(k) loan equivalents to the interest rate charged on a comparable consumer loan minus lost investment earnings on the principal borrowed.

Another benefit is that the loan is not required to be reported to credit bureaus, which means it does not affect an individual's credit score. However, borrowing from a 401(k) account can reduce an individual's retirement savings, and the funds that were borrowed will not have the same opportunity to grow due to the tax-free compounding that typically happens within a retirement plan.

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How does a 401(k) Loan Work?

A 401(k) loans are available in the United States and are generally easier to obtain than other types of loans, as the borrower is essentially borrowing from their own savings account.

To be eligible for a 401(k) loan, an individual must first have a 401(k) account through their employer. If the employer allows for loans to be taken out from the account, then the individual can apply for the loan. The amount to borrow varies by plan, but typically one can borrow up to 50% of the vested account balance or $50,000, whichever is less.

To obtain a 401(k) loan, an individual must first apply for the loan through their employer. The employer will then disclose the terms and conditions of the loan, which can vary based on the employer's specific policies. Typically, the loan must be repaid within five years, and interest will be charged at a rate determined by the employer. The interest paid on loan is actually going back into the individual's 401(k) account and not being paid to a bank.

The borrower pays interest directly to themselves. This is because the loan is essentially a transfer of money from one account to another within the same investment portfolio. The interest on the 401(k) loan is lower than that of a personal loan or credit card. The borrower has up to five years to pay off the loan in regular installments, which are automatically deducted from their paycheck.

If the borrower cannot pay the loan back, the outstanding balance is treated as an early withdrawal from the account. This means that the individual will have to pay taxes on the amount withdrawn as well as a 10% penalty if under the age of 59 ½.

A 401(k) loan could potentially slow retirement savings. When a loan is taken out, the funds used for the loan are no longer able to grow in the account through investment. This could result in a lower balance at retirement, which could, in turn, affect the amount of retirement income that is available.

What to Consider Before Getting a 401(k) Loan

A 401(k) loan can seem like a convenient way to borrow money, but it can also come with significant risks and drawbacks. Here are the factors to consider before getting a 401(k) loan in the USA:

  1. Interest rates. The interest rate on 401(k) loans is usually lower than a traditional loan, but you are still paying yourself interest and losing the potential investment returns you would have received if the money had stayed in your retirement account.

  2. Fees and taxes. Some 401(k) plans charge fees for taking out a loan, and if you fail to repay the loan, you may face penalties and taxes on the amount borrowed. Additionally, if you lose or leave your job before the loan is repaid, you will have to pay it back in full within a short amount of time, or it will be considered an early withdrawal subject to taxes and penalties.

  3. Repayment terms. 401(k) loans have a repayment term of five years or less, which can make the monthly payments more expensive than other types of loans. Plus, if you lose your job or change employers, the loan may become due immediately.

  4. Impact on retirement savings. Withdrawing money out of your 401(k) account means you will be reducing the amount of money available for retirement. Depending on how long you have until retirement, this could significantly impact your long-term savings.

  5. Alternatives. Before taking out a 401(k) loan, consider other alternatives such as a personal loan, home equity loan, or credit card. These options may come with higher interest rates, but they do not put your future retirement savings at risk.

Pros and Cons of 401(k) Loans


  1. Easier approval process. Rather than applying for a loan from a bank or a financial institution, a 401(k) loan comes directly from your retirement plan. Hence, the approval process is much quicker and easier.

  2. No credit check is required. Unlike traditional loans, a 401(k) loan does not require a credit check.

  3. Low interest rates. The interest rates for a 401(k) loan are lower than other types of loans. If you have a high interest debt, you can take a 401(k) loan to cover it.

  4. No penalty for early loan repayments. If you can pay off your 401(k) loan early, there is no financial penalty.

  5. Debt consolidation. Borrowing from your 401(k) to pay off multiple debts can potentially make it easier to manage your finances.


  1. Potential tax implications. Unless you pay back the loan on time, the borrowed amount will be counted as income, and you will have to pay income taxes on it.

  2. Lower retirement savings. Borrowing from your 401(k) means that the money taken out of the account will not be invested, resulting in less money for retirement savings.

  3. Limited borrowing capacity. The maximum amount you can get from your 401(k) plan is limited to 50% of your balance or $50,000, whichever is lower.

  4. Risk of default. If you cannot pay back the loan on time, your retirement savings could be at risk of incurring an early withdrawal penalty.

  5. Missed investment opportunities. If you borrow from your 401(k) plan, you won't be able to invest that money, which could lead to missed opportunities for growth and earning potential.

How to get a 401(k) Loan

A 401(k) loan is a loan allowing individuals to borrow from their own retirement savings account. As such, it is only available to those who have an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, which is a common retirement savings plan in the United States. Getting a 401(k) loan is relatively easy, but there are things to keep in mind:

  1. Check with your employer to see if a 401(k) plan allows for loans. If the plan does allow for loans, individuals will need to review the specific terms and conditions of their plan to determine the maximum amount that can be borrowed and the repayment period. There are limits on the number of loans that can be taken out at a time.

  2. Fill out a loan application with your plan administrator. This application typically includes information about the loan amount, the reason for the loan, and the repayment terms. The plan administrator will then review the application and approve or deny the loan.

  3. Receive the funds within a few days. The money can be used for any purpose, but you need to remember that the loan amount will need to be repaid with interest. The interest rate is usually set by the plan administrator and may be lower than rates for other types of loans.

Repayments are typically made through payroll deductions, so individuals will need to make sure they have enough income to cover both the loan payments and their regular expenses. If you leave your job before the loan is repaid, you may be required to pay the loan balance in full or face penalties.

Alternatives to 401(k) Loans

401(k) loans are a popular option for many Americans to borrow money from their retirement accounts. However, it is important to understand that borrowing from your 401(k) can have serious consequences on your retirement savings, especially if the loan is not repaid on time. Here are some alternatives to consider before taking out a 401(k) loan:

  1. Personal loans from banks or online lenders can be a good option for those who have a good credit score and need to borrow money quickly. Personal loans have fixed interest rates, so you will know your payment amount and can build a repayment plan to pay back the loan.

  2. Home equity loans or lines of credit. If you have equity in your home, you may take out a home equity loan or line of credit. These loans typically offer lower interest rates than a personal loan, but they will require you to put your home up as collateral.

  3. Credit card balance transfers. If you have high-interest credit card debt, you may transfer your balance to a card with a lower interest rate. Many credit card companies offer a 0% introductory APR for a limited time, which can help you pay off your debt more quickly.

  4. Side hustles. If your financial need is not urgent, consider starting a side hustle to earn extra income. There are opportunities to earn money online, such as freelancing, selling goods online, or taking part in focus groups.

  5. Negotiate payment plans. If you have outstanding debts, such as medical bills or student loans, reach out to the creditor and try to negotiate a payment plan. Many creditors are willing to work with you to establish manageable payment plans that will not significantly impact your financial situation.


Can I get a loan against my 401k?

Yes, you can get a loan against your 401k plan. Most 401k plans offer this option, and you can borrow up to 50% of the vested account balance or a maximum of $50,000, whichever is less. However, the rules on borrowing from your 401k plan can vary by plan, so it is important to check with your plan administrator for specific details.

Is it a good idea to get a loan from 401k?

Borrowing from your 401k plan can be an attractive option since the interest rates are typically lower than other loan types, and you are essentially borrowing from yourself. Additionally, there is no credit check required to take a loan from your 401k, and you have five years to repay the loan. You can take a 401k loan to pay for a down payment on your mortgage.

However, taking a loan from your 401k plan means that the money you borrowed is no longer invested. You will miss out on potential market gains. Additionally, if you leave your job before repaying the loan, you may be required to repay the entire balance within a short time frame, which can be difficult for some people. Finally, if you fail to repay the loan, it will be classified as a distribution and taxed as ordinary income, in addition to a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are younger than 59 ½.

Do 401k loans hurt credit score?

Taking a loan from your 401k plan does not directly affect your credit score since there is no credit check required to take the loan. However, if you fail to pay the loan back, it can be reported as a default to credit agencies, which can negatively impact your credit score. Additionally, if you take out too many loans from your 401k plan, it can be seen as a sign of financial distress by lenders, which can lower your creditworthiness.

What types of loans are available with 401k?

The primary type of loan available with a 401k plan is a general loan, where you can borrow up to 50% of your account balance or a maximum of $50,000, whichever is less. Additionally, some plans may offer a special loan program for home purchases or education expenses. These loans typically have different rules and regulations than general loans, so it is important to check with your plan administrator for specific details.

How can I borrow money from my 401k without penalty?

To borrow money from your 401k plan without penalty, you must follow the rules set forth in your plan document. Generally, you can borrow up to 50% of your vested account balance or a maximum of $50,000, whichever is less. Additionally, you must repay the loan within five years unless it is for a home purchase.

If you leave your job before paying the loan back, you may be required to repay the outstanding balance within a short time frame, typically within 60 days. If you cannot repay the loan, it will be classified as a distribution and taxed as ordinary income, in addition to a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are younger than 59 ½.

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